We often hear people talk about sugar as being addictive, and maybe you have felt that yourself. Health professionals are often reluctant to say you can develop a true addiction to this sweet substance. However this may change, as neuroscientists learn more about what happens in the brain when we eat high-sugar foods.
A new study conducted by Queensland University of Technology has found that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could be used to reduce sugar consumption in animals.
Here are some comments from one of the study authors, neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett of QUT. “Sugar repeatedly elevates dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs including tobacco, cocaine and morphine.
After long-term consumption, this leads to the opposite – a reduction in dopamine levels. This leads to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward.
We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation.”
Our study also found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin could produce effects similar to those we obtained with table sugar, highlighting the importance of re-evaluating our relationship with sweetened food per se.
“Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them.”
These are sobering words!
What are some implications?
Let’s cease the pervasive practice of ‘rewarding’ children with high sugar foods.Why would we want to create a positive emotional connection with a substance that can create long-term health problems?
- If you want to raise awareness about the high levels of sugar in everyday, so-called ‘healthy foods’ among your friends or teachers, watch the movie “That sugar film’ – it’s entertaining and highly educational without being hysterical.
- As an adult, if you’ve struggled long-term to reduce your consumption of sweet foods, you can now understand some of the biochemical factors at play, and there may even be some drugs to help in the future.
- If you want to cut right back on sugar, plan for it like you would giving up a drug, giving a lot of thought to triggers, dealing with cravings, and the support you will need.